Tuesday, 20 February 2007

The meaning of 'psychosomatic'

From an article, 'Confessions of a Fraud and Failure', by Bryan Lask:
The term ‘psychosomatic’ has been much misused, most commonly to describe conditions for which an organic cause cannot be found and in which psychological factors are deemed to be important. Such an approach is not only narrow but inaccurate. The fact that an organic contribution cannot be found does not signify absence – molecular biology and genetics are providing remarkable new insights and it now seems likely that there is an organic contribution to all conditions. Similarly, there are no situations in which psychosocial elements are irrelevant, with the possibility of them operating as predisposing, precipitating and/or perpetuating factors. Psychosomatic medicine acknowledges the totality of a condition, the biological, the psychological and the social.

One of the earliest descriptions of this concept was provided by Richardson in 1945 in a fascinating book entitled Patients have Families. Physician turned psychiatrist he stated ‘the time is now ripe for a coordinated attack on the problems of family adjustment in relation to maintenance of health and the treatment of illness . . . the many opportunities for enhancing the value of medical treatment are now being lost through overlooking the importance of the family unit’. Way ahead of his time Richardson was an unacknowledged revolutionary. (p. 459)
The time is still ripe.

Lask's father, Aaron, was author of Asthma, Attitudes and Milieu (Tavistock: 1966).

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